November 2014 Wood News Online Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News


by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

(Page 3 of 4)
Previous Page   1   2   3  4   Next Page  

Killin' Time, Part Two --- Ennui or Awe, It's Your Choice

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

Last month we started exploring the subject of boredom. How we "kill time" doing something mundane until we do something exciting. We looked at how boredom can lead to inattentiveness that in turn can lead to distraction and that can lead to mistakes or even dangerous situations. We acknowledged that one way to alleviate boredom is to "shake it up" and do things differently. Get a set of card scrapers and eschew sandpaper for a project or try a new joinery technique. Sooner or later though, anything new you try will someday become old hat, and once again, it will be possible to lose focus, slip out of the zone, and become bored.

Another potential way to avoid boredom is to allow the mind to "multitask." Think about something more challenging or entertaining while doing something mundane. But this technique has some downside potential.

You know the scenario. It is a perfectly nice day, some great tunes on the stereo, you are envisioning your next project, and you are sanding… and all of a sudden you set the sander down at an angle and ding your work or you sand a bit too long in one area and develop a hollow or sand right through a veneer. The mistake happened because multitasking is a misnomer. It simply does not exist in its popular context. The mind doesn't do two things at once equally well. Instead, it splits its processing power between two (or more) things, each of those things receiving diminished attention.

Think of it this way… when your truck is in two-wheel drive a certain amount of energy is being expending to turn two wheels. When you put the truck into four-wheel drive, some power goes to the original two wheels, some goes to the two additional wheels, and some is lost in the transmission and transfer case. The energy is not only divided between two axles, but some is also lost in the process.

It may seem an intractable problem. Some things we do in the shop are boring necessities. We can do these things differently to alleviate boredom, but sooner or later the new way won't be new anymore. We can try letting our minds wander with purpose and think productively (or entertainingly) about other things when tasked with something boring, but we risk our diminished attentiveness leading to mistakes. So what to do? Well, never fear… your Down To Earth Woodworker has come up with a root cause analysis and a solution.

"Familiarity breeds contempt" is a short version of the reality that "familiarity breeds boredom that ultimately breeds contempt." If you question whether or not familiarity can ultimately lead to contempt, how many times have you heard "I hate sanding" come out of a woodworker's mouth?

Another well-worn adage is "ignorance is bliss." Were that entirely accurate, America might well be the happiest country on the planet and where I live would be its Capital, but I digress. The statement contains a grain of truth, if not the whole truth.

A lack of understanding, knowledge, or familiarity with the unknown does often manifest itself as exciting, romantic, mystical, mysterious, enchanting, rewarding, or inspiring. All or any of those descriptors are the antithesis of boredom, and might, in comparison, be blissful.

The lunar eclipse in the wee morning hours of October 8 is a perfect example. We all know the orbital mechanics and understand the shadow of earth moving across the moon's surface. Standing in the cold clear darkness with only one cup of coffee so far fueling me, I could have allowed the knowledge of "how" and my familiarity with past eclipses to spoil the event, make it boring, or defocus my attention; but instead my understanding and knowledge of "how" receded from my consciousness and my subconscious "right side" mind kicked in and let the "awe" take over.

As the event unfolded, I thought about ancient peoples and what they might have felt seeing a lunar eclipse. It likely stirred their curiosity and perhaps fear… it surely seemed mysterious, perhaps spiritual. What did they think? Did two lovers cuddle and watch, not knowing if the end was near? Did elders who had seen an eclipse before calm the younger people? Was any other event that night suddenly and serendipitously special, blessed or cursed? Watching the moon enter the umbra, I imagined the awe among people who did not know that the moon was simply moving into the dark shadow cast by the earth. I stood, transfixed, imagining their awe and gradually reacquiring my own. Logic, knowledge, ennui should have conspired to kill the awe and breed boredom but the romantic, artistic, mystical, mysterious part of my mind overruled and I stayed. And it's the best couple of hours I've spent doing nothing in a long, long time.

The bottom line is… we know too much.

As the leaves change this fall, our "left brain" logic, knowledge, and experience tells us that chlorophyll production is ebbing, nitrogen and phosphorus is migrating from leaves to twigs, and the resultant leaf colors are merely displaying the remnants of anthocyanins, tannins, and carotenoids no longer masked by the green of the chlorophyll. Boring. We know too much.

Our fanciful creative emotional "right brain" sees the fall foliage with awe and leads us to think about the beauty and miracle and mystery.

Can we be retain our knowledge, be "smart," and still be in "awe?" Can we file away the facts, suppress the left hemisphere of our brain, overcome the ennui, and look with excitement and curiosity again at something mundane or boring? I believe so. I think it just takes a little practice and a little creativity.

So here is an exercise that will get those right-brain neurons firing. Get some piece or part of a project you are currently working on, grab a piece of sandpaper, and put on a blindfold. That's right… a blindfold. Now sand that part without seeing. This is an amazing exercise. You will literally hear the differences in the wood as you sand across different areas. You will feel the wood in a way you have never felt it before. What you thought was a perfectly flat board will reveal undulations you could never normally "see." Now lay the board down, spin it around, pick it up again… you will be able to feel the grain direction without seeing it. Amazing. Awe.

The answer, as it turns out, to making every minute in the woodworking shop exciting, interesting, and enjoyable, is inside us. It is our ability to let the whimsical, emotional, creative, sensitive side of our brains take over and willingly suspend our pragmatic, jaded, logical knowledge and experience… blindfold it, so to speak. Get the "awe" back, and there will never be another reason or chance to "kill time."

(Page 3 of 4)
Previous Page   1   2   3  4   Next Page  

Return to Wood News front page

Bookmark and
See Previous Newsletters Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Copyright © 2014 Highland Woodworking, Inc.

Highland Woodworking | 1045 N. Highland Avenue, NE | Atlanta | GA | 30306 | 404.872.4466